Monday, 17 October 2011

Secrets to Living in England

Here are a few quick and simple rules that would make any American's visit to England just that bit more enjoyable, regardless of its duration.

1.  Never turn down a cup of tea.  I know there are times when tea seems like so much bog water and one could really do with a nicely cold can of A&W Diet Root Beer instead, but tea denied is a social opportunity deferred.  English friends won't know what to do with you, or in fact, how to continue any conversation you might have been having up until that point.  Your teeth will lose that unmistakeable brown cast only six cups a day can bring on.  Worse yet, no one will offer you any biscuits or scones to go with your bolshie soda.  So, suck it up literally and pony up for the PG Tips.

2.  Avoid using the term "spastic" at all costs.  Saying that one of your particularly nerdy friends is "such a spaz" in any U.K. company will swiftly get you labeled as a monster who might as well start hurling anti-gay and racial slurs while you are at it.  Calling someone spastic means they have cerebral palsy, and that adjective doesn't carry any of the lighthearted undertones as it does in American English.

3.  You're not in Kansas anymore, so get over it.  It's badly embarrasing to see unenlightened Americans running around, demanding glasses brimming with ice and jars of marshmallow Fluff.  Have some respect for the foreign country you are in, and realize how much American culture has already been stuffed down the rest of the world's throats.  Avoid cramming it full of Twinkies to boot.  Maybe you might get around to appreciating some of their culture if you stopped whining about the unavailability of your own.  (But whatever you do, don't get conned into trying Marmite.  It's not worth it, unless you'd be into licking the bottom of a brewery vat.)

4.  Learn to queue the right way.  Whatever you do, don't start jumping into short lines at the supermarket simply because they've opened a new till lane and you happened to get there first.  Look to see who's been waiting the longest, and make sure they can avail themselves of the opportunity to be served before you.  Being cavalier with queues is a recipe for disaster in the form of sour looks, sharp comments, and possibly being flagged as a problem shopper by staff.  Queue jumping is a fundemental violation of English social order, and you will be treated like the pariah that you are for engaging in it.

5.  For the love of Pete, just give up on callling your mobile your 'cell phone,' and stop feeling mortally wounded when Microsoft Word says you've spelled 'humor' wrong.  Sure you know deep down you're right, just like it's 5 o'clock somewhere.  But that somewhere isn't the UK.  And issuing militantly misspelled notes to the locals will get you branded as dangerously straight off the boat, most likely packing heat.  Console yourself with the fact that you win the language war every time you send an 'email,' as opposed to an 'epost.'  You shouldn't ever start imitating the accent unless you are particularly fond of Dick Van Dyke's performance in "Mary Poppins," which is known to English ears as the all-time worst attempt by an American at putting on a British accent in cinematic history.  Going to this extreme to blend will get you all the respect of a sideshow monkey, without the tips.


Saya said...

Point 4 and 2 are the most important. I've been advised since the beginning to not even think about skipping/ not queue in the right way, and just yesterday I made the mistake of defining something "spastic".
They look at me as if I was a member of KKK or something :P

ChaChaneen said...

As always... so much fun to visit you and catch up on your life there while I'm here in California!

Claire said...

Thanks! I've heard PBS is carrying Downton Abbey - isn't that right up your street? The second series is airing here, and it's very addictive. That minxy Lady Mary is really something else.

monica. said...

only just found this blog and i love it! being an american in england, i totally relate to everything you wrote...made me laugh. thanks.

Claire said...

Thanks! It's therapeutic. I've been here for about three years, so I thought I might be qualified by now to help keep fellow Yanks out of trouble.

ChaChaneen said...

Oh Yes.... lurve Downton Abbey! i play reruns of it on my PBS iPhone app all the time. It's a great way to mentally escape during my lunch.

Ooooooh the second series? Swoon! You lucky girl! Can't wait for it to make it across the pond.

Claire said...

The second series of Downton Abbey has gotten heavy criticism in my favorite mag, "The Lady", for having too many plot twists. I didn't know that was possible! It is quite compelling, and I'm enjoying it. I think the last episode of the second series airs tomorrow night. I don't know if BBC iPlayer will let you watch it in the US, but you might give it a try if you really can't wait.